Flesh Under Glass: The David Cronenberg: Evolution Exhibition

Last week I wrote about TIFF’s wide-ranging retrospective From Within: The Films of David Cronenberg. It’s a superb series showcasing all of his films, with several special screenings featuring talks by either Cronenberg himself or various of his collaborators. TIFF’s outdone themselves this time around, going beyond the film programme to mount a Cronenberg Expo featuring props, costumes, artwork and more, called David Cronenberg: Evolution.

Posters and stills galore are just one part of David Cronenberg: Evolution

The exhibition traces from the beginnings of Cronenberg’s career up to his most recent films. As Noah Cowan, TIFF’s Artistic Director, observes, “David Cronenberg has made an immeasurable contribution to Canadian and global cinema. TIFF has been fortunate enough to have worked with him throughout his career to amass a significant collection of artifacts and documents that have made this celebration possible.” And boy have they. Props and makeup appliances from Cronenberg’s earliest films are on display, including the Hobbes parasites created by Joe Blasco for Shivers and the vagina-like slit from James Woods’ torso created by effects legend Rick Baker for Videodrome. Made from latex, the older pieces are fragile and some are a little shrivelled, but they’re remarkably well preserved. I was surprised how many weird bits under glass still packed a visceral punch. You can feel the creepiness vibrating from each unsettling protuberance. The discarded pieces of Seth Brundle’s body from The Fly, created by Chris Wallas, are still cringe-worthy, as are the Mantle retractor and other custom gynecological tools sculpted by Cheryl Camack Grundy for Dead Ringers. Even inert, Cronenberg knows how to mess your sex up.

The telepod from The Fly. Let housekeeping have a go before stepping in yourself.

There are great stories to be had, as well. The distinctive telepod from The Fly was inspired by Cronenberg’s Ducati motorcycle engine (that silver construct immediately to the left of the pod). An avid car and motorbike nut, Cronenberg found inspiration by turning the bike’s engine cylinder upside-down. Working with production designers Carol Spier and James McAteer, they finished the pod with a suggestive metallic cockroach colouring. “There are a lot of insects that make very strange little houses for themselves when they are pupating,” Cronenberg has said, “and that’s what I wanted to get the feel of.” Nailed it!

Snap a pic at the bar with a Mugwump. Good company, but he doesn’t say a lot.

The exhibition has a special section that recreates the vibe of Naked Lunch‘s Interzone with its Moroccan influence, where you can view many of that film’s props and character effects. The Clark-Nova typewriter puppets created by Jim Isaac (he directed Jason X, plus doing tons of movie FX) are there, as well as the mugwumps, centipedes and everyone’s favourite animatronic freakshow the sex blob. You can take a photo at the bar (the one place photography is allowed), sharing a stiff one with a charming mugwump replica (the time-worn original is there too, under glass). Even William S. Burroughs, author of the original Naked Lunch novel, found the mugwump “very engaging, rather simpatico.” 

Get your POD as part of the Body/Mind/Change exhibit by TIFF and CFC Media Lab

There’s a lot more, and an area showcasing Cronenberg interviews and short films as well. In addition, TIFF has partnered with the Canadian Film Centre’s Media Lab to create a unique interactive exhibition called Body/Mind/Change. Located on the fourth floor of the TIFF Bell Lightbox, participants are invited to explore the plausible science fiction of Cronenberg’s films, treated as fact. You can view the exhibition, while another side of it allows you to take part in a series of episodic interactive narratives online. By taking part in a blend of questions and short video clips, an “artificial intelligence” will begin to shape a custom bio-tech recommendation engine for you, called Personal-On-Demand (POD). It’s an odd, eerie exercise, but an intriguing alternate take on the mode of Cronenberg’s expression. I’ve completed the first of three questionnaires, the others to be released over the course of the exhibition. After signing up, I was introduced to my personal AI named Kay, who then asked me strange things and showed me bits of a story involving a character created for me named Elena and others, including a guy named Blake. It was disquieting, analytical and kind of sexual. I’m sure David approves. After all three segments have been completed, your POD will be 3D-printed, each one custom-generated based on your responses. The printed PODs are put on display as part of the BMC exhibit, and you can also go to the exhibit and pick-up your custom POD to take home. You can find out more and take part at http://bodymindchange.ca.

The Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) is also part of the proceedings, featuring the exhibition David Cronenberg: Through the Eye. The exhibition is curated by Cronenberg, and features works from Louise Bourgeois, Alex Clville, John Massey, Mark Prent and John Scott, as as works from Cronenberg’s personal collection by Charles Burns and William Burroughs. Following a public reception on Saturday, November 2nd from 2-5pm, the free MOCCA exhibition will run until December 29th, 2013. Find out more here.

David Cronenberg: Evolution is now open and runs to January 19, 2014. For more information and to get tickets, head over to TIFF. It’s a very cool collection; you won’t mind at all as it gets under your skin.

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